Silnylon vehicle awning ideas for a lightweight compact flexible design


Expedition Leader
Just recently purchased my project Suburban, spend much of my leisure time in the deserts and mountains of the Southwest. Shade is Good.
And by the time I found a used K1500 Suburban that fit all my criteria, it turned out to be black. So shade is REALLY good.
For some time I've been doodling ideas for a flexible inexpensive design. Somewhat influenced by my Marine service and messing with military canvas shelter halves and camoflage nets. Lots of hexagons and half-hexagons to be found there.
Along the way on various Prepper forums I've heard sung the praises of silnylon fabric as the magic elixir for light weight, compact storage, lot cost, good workability, etc etc etc /King of Siam

So here's what I've come up with / what I'm building to work with my Suburban. The idea is two large trapezoidal silnylon tarps. Sewn with a 1" reinforced edge, grommets every 2' on the periphery, a base about 14' long, a 'top' that's 8' long and a width about 7' or 8'. Each tarp would be paired with a pair of collapsing tent poles, stays, stakes.

In a simple configuration, a single trapezoid is affixed to the Z71 luggage rack on my Suburban with the poles set at the far corners and guy lines to stakes in the ground.

The tarp could also be attached to the stern of the vehicle. Or the two tarps attached in each location such that their angled ends meet, to form an L-shaped pavillion, a la a batwing design.

Additionally, there's a need to shade the vehicle itself. In desert summer conditions you can quite readily burn yourself on a vehicle sittind under the hot sun. even without it being painted black.
An additional rectangular tarp would be sized and affixed to cover the entire top aspect of the vehicle. Attached to the vehicle at the corners of both tarp and vehicle. This tarp would also have grommets on 2' intervals around the edges.

This vehicle shade and the trapezoidal tarps could be fastened together at their edges to form a continuous shade. The trapezoid could also be rotated 180deg such that its longest side meshes with the vehicle shade.

The two trapezoidal tarps could be attached to each other or erected in various configurations depending on your camp or situation. Put them together long to long and have a full hex. If you have a lot of trees you could loft the whole thing and be free to drive your vehicle about. Or instead rig them at right angles to each other to alter the shade layout around your vehicle.

As you can see, there are a lot of options with these shapes. The two in the larger hex formation can be readily stiched together thru the grommets with a long guy rope up the middle. With some additional grommets strategically placed inboard of the corners, a drooping shade edge could easily be formed. Or just shorten the poles and slant the whole shade towards the sun, lowering the western edge as much as you want.
And with an edge lashed to the side rail of the luggage rack, it's an easy matter to pull the poles and use them to roll up the tarp for binding to the rail for relocating the vehicle to the next site and easily redeploying the shade.

The whole thing sans poles would fit in a couple small stuff sacks. And again sans poles, weighs about three pounds. Add another pound for the hammer. Call the whole thing under 7 pounds in weight. Silnylon is roughly $1 / square yard.

Call it well under $100 for 280sq' of flexible shade.
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New member
Thanks for posting this up with more detail. I read your description in another post. I understood what you were saying but the pictures help.
I was thinking about a fold out awning. With my experience fold out awnings work for a few hours for shade. I was thinking about a large rectangular canvas tarp. You definitely pointed out some benefits which have me reconsidering my idea. Luckily before I regretted a purchase..
Did you mention using collapsible pole as a spreader bar when using the small side of the trapezoid tarp along the front or rear of the vehicle. Id love to be able to just throw a tarp over the hood and stap a spreader bar (collapsible pole) to the roof rack and have shade while working on the engine. As well as the many benefits of having an awning across the back that spread outwards.


While it's a good idea, the weight benefit of silnylon is offset by the difficulty sewing with it (my buddy has made a few UL tarps and items for backpacking) and it's not really what I would call rugged material. It can snag easily. This is great for UL backpacking, where every ounce is scrutinized, but in the case of a vehicular use, I would opt for something more durable, easy to work with, and less expensive.
Saving 5 pounds in material may not be worth the hassle and expense for use as a truck awning.


Expedition Leader
To me it's more about the stored volume, than the weight. Heavier materials dont compress as well. I'm building a shallow cargo area platform with a pair of long drawers within it, and a slim multi-power station along one side of the cargo bay that can stay in place when the 3rd row seat is re-installed. Right now I'm using a plastice Sterlite footlocker crammed full of roadside emergency gear and various other things. Each drawer will yield about 4cu' of storage space. with about a breadbox-sized pocket at the front ends. One drawer will be dedicated to all the tools and supplies I carry in the footlocker now. Most of the other drawer will be reserved for use on shooting trips. The chief benefit being that I can carry a wide array of gear and firearms and anyone looking in the windows sees nothing at all.
Above all, this Suburban will be a daily driver, and I'm keeping most planned work as unnoticeable as possible. So no big racks of gear in the cargo area, no Hi-lift strapped to the roof, etc. And no ARB rigid arm awning rack strapped to the roof.

So my ideas are focused on compact and relatively concealed. There'll be some details that can't be hidden, or mounting locations that will be obvious to folks who know what to look for. But everything else will be packed out of sight or as stealthy as I can make it.

I've already modified a heavy duty blue/silver tarp for interim use. It's 8'x10' and already had plastic grommets spaced around the edges. I added several more brass grommets around the corners for some of that flexibility I mentioned above. But the tightest I can fold / roll that up is about the size of a full roll of papertowels. That's not even a 1/3 of the shade area in silnylon, in the same volume.

As to the reported complications of working silnylon, there are several home craftsman that seem to be doing an able job of it for hammock covers and the like. Their collective advice seems to be 'use good thread and sharp needles'. I'm picking up a good deal on a used sewing machine on Sunday hopefully, so I will soon find out. For this and other vehicle-related projects in other materials.

we're about to get hit with another rainstorm around here but maybe this weekend I can rig my existing tarp solution at a nearby park. I live in suburbia, I scarcely have room to rig a tarp pavillion in my own front yard. And frankly I don't want to display my wares to my neighbors.

more to come
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Any new developments? Some cool ideas in this thread. I am planning something similar although it will be a bit smaller in scale. For poles I will probably use the 6'6" awning poles from Kirkham's as they are local to me:

I am thinking of using ripstop nylon for ours. It's strong and my wife has experience sewing it. Most importantly we have a whole bunch of it, although it will have to be pieced together a bit.

Silnylon is roughly $1 / square yard.

Call it well under $100 for 280sq' of flexible shade.
Where are you finding the material for that price?


Expedition Leader
actually yes, I was a fat man in a red jacket this holiday season so I bought myself a decently-reviewed basic sewing machine and have been busy teaching myself to machine-sew. Been doing a few basic exercises and then leaped right into making stuff sacks and a telescope cover and just tonight stitched up some mockup pieces for the edging of my awnings.

A fitted cover for my 8" dobsonian scope, with an integral stuff-sack sewn into its drawstring edge so it can fold up into itself.

I might do the same thing with my awning panels, permanently attach their storage bag to one edge. Nothing to lose or blow away. And it could be sized to store the guy ropes and stakes for each panel, too.

The idea for the edges of the awning sections is a sort of double edge, the top flap having grommets and the bottom acting as a weather seal of sorts and as a protective layer between the bottom of the grommets and the vehicle surfaces. Instead of just tying the tarps together at matching grommets, the idea is to stitch them together with a very tautly anchored guy rope. Something like this:

Can't really see the layers well in these pictures, I'll take some tomorrow after I hammer-punch and grommet the things and stitch them together.

in regular use, that double flap does nothing. But when joining two sections of awning together with a guy rope 'sown' thru the grommets, they help seal up the gap. We used some higher end CP tents in the Marines 20yrs ago that had a double flap like this, except they were lined with velcro. The double seal had very strong resistance to pulling apart. But I'm doing this on the cheap so no velcro.

The fabric was online at a vendor referenced on a lightweight hiking gear forum. It was listed last month at $1.99 a yard on a presumed 60" wide bolt. Which I rather loosely related as a $1 per square yard. Which isn't that far off. I just got this gray nylon for 40% off $7.99 at Joanne's on Monday. Which is about $2.75/sq yard. Didn't want to wait for shipping. But I'll verify the worthiness of that cheaper silnylon source shortly and report it here.

eta I made that telescope cover for about $18 total, saved enough on it to more than cover the cost of the sewing machine.
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Expedition Leader
another configuration doodle. With a 'set' of two trapezoids 16'L on their base and a vehicle cover that's also 16'L and 6-7' wide, you could arrange them into a full octagon vehicle / site cover. Over a vehicle and ground tent, or with enough trees suspend the whole thing 10' in the air like a trampoline and come and go as you please in the vehicle while leaving your site intact.

The other thing I've been messing with on the subject was the idea of flat webbing reinforcements on the edges or corners. Been reading a lot of hiker / ultralight gear postings about sewing this stuff, seen a lot of ugly work done on adding such straps. Lots of layered gusseting and folded-over webbing loops for tying stays to, simply sewn perpendicularly into an edge seam. Not any stronger than the fabric material itself (which granted is pretty strong). But again, spent a lot of time in high deserts and brutal winds. So I'm all about that base, er I mean edge reinforcement. First I made sure by basic Brother home sewing machine could handle the webbing, which went just fine -

Then I farted around with the idea of putting a twisted loop in the webbing at the corners. Sturdy, on the folded seams and with a grommet thru it, it should hold up to any wind I care to be out in. just an illustration of the idea using a belt -

For a hasty shelter or protection you could just stake that loop to the ground. like the loop on a tent. Or use that loop in the 'normal' arrangement, tie the guy rope to it and just poke the collapsing tent pole thru the corner grommet.


I'm also thinking of making the vehicle-covering panel two-sided. Whatever earthy tone I go with overall and the underside in Safety Orange. In an emergency it becomes a huge marker panel for aerial search.
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Expedition Leader
So this lightweight nylon was pretty difficult to cut using my hollow punches on a block of soft wood. The nylon drove into the wood instead of cutting. Had to use a piece of scrap oak instead. Also had a problem with the width of the hem / edges. I'd figured 1" was good, based on the cheap harbor Freight grommets I had on hand. But I forgot about the inset of the seams and had to offset the punched holes towards the outer edges so the inner grommet piece would fit up against the stitching inside the crease of the doubled edge. Which then puts the wider top of the grommets hard to the edge of the awning, which I really don't want. So going forward I'll need to either widen the edge to 1-1/4" or get a lot better and tighter to the edges with my stitching.
Here's a better image of the double edge and how it covers the bottom of the grommets -

And a quick mockup stringing the two pieces together. A little fiddly with such short runs. In real use, things would be strung so there was tension on each end of the joined edges, which would further help tighten up the joint. And using a thicker cord (that's paracord in the pic) or smaller grommets for a snugger fit on the line would help as well. But end tension solves most of it anyway.

Still an evolutionary process. The intended fabric is much thinner. Different / better grommets will be sought. Possibly plastic grommets, too. Different cordage. More to come.
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Very cool, thanks for posting the photos and descriptions. We are probably going to just make a trapezoidal one and call it good. Mainly looking for a little shade on the side of the truck, and sometimes in the desert we don't have many (or any) trees or soft ground available. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with though!


Expedition Leader
neither forgotten or abandoned. I just made a purchase from
Pricing for silnylon is about .45 a square foot. Ripstop in many colors on sale right now for $4/yd, which is a 5' roll, so ~.27/sq'
Just made a small purchase of some blaze orange material to make the 'marker panel' portion of my awning setup idea. Rest to follow.
Will report on the transaction and product after I get it.


I have order material - 500d for another project I think - from them (Rip Stop Buy The Roll) shipped reasonably quick and good stuff.

Looking a building this awning using Silnylon.



Expedition Leader
Thanks, will do. There's a big public park not far from home, when I get it built I'll go set it all up there for some beauty shots (and give some caretaker and busybodies a fit about 'someone camping in the park'.

plh, is that design staked to teh ground, or supported by horizontal rods pivoting from teh rack (a la the Batwing)? That gives me the idea of just permanely attaching the two trapezoids to form a large 'L' for similar coverage to your referenced design and if only one side is desired just leave the trapezoids folded one atop the other. One more unfolding and a pole / stay and double the coverage. But that wrecks the Octogon idea, some of the flexibility in layout.


Expedition Leader
Here's my tiny instant awning . . . It's not the same thing as being considered here, and it's not rocket science, but a silicon nylon tarp can be hooked over magnetic hooks attached near the gutter rails of a T1N Sprinter and combined with two adjustable poles to come up with a fairly credible awning that stores as small as possible. Using a pre-made tarp, non-permanent hooks and the existing corner grommet holes makes the whole thing a piece of cake.


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